Thursday, July 14, 2011

Black Mamba Reconnects with Manila and Loves It

Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant is enthused by the Filipinos’ passion for basketball and it’s the reason why he looks forward to visit every summer – if he can help it.

Bryant flew in the other day to start a five-city Asian tour organized by Nike and as usual, his first stop was Manila. It was his fourth trip to the country. Yesterday, Bryant played the role of ambassador of goodwill, if not the Pied Piper, as he made himself available for one-on-one interviews with six media groups, including The STAR, an omnibus press conference, a session with fans at the Nike Superstore on High Street and a workout with local players at a jampacked Araneta Coliseum. Despite the hectic schedule, Bryant was all smiles from start to finish – he clearly enjoyed every minute of the brief visit.

Bryant, 32, shared his thoughts on various topics during the one-on-one interviews. But his main message was for those aspiring to play the game at a high level, “to work hard, challenge your will and dominate yourself.”

Although he was hampered by injuries in the past NBA season, Bryant said it didn’t stop him from competing. “If I’m hurt but I’m still standing, I’ll go out there and give it my best shot,” he said. “It’s just the love of the game. I love playing. I don’t like taking days off. I don’t like quitting. It’s not who I am. To me, it’s about winning. Somebody has to win and I’d rather (that somebody) be me.”

With 15 NBA seasons under his belt, Bryant said he continues to keep pushing himself to the limit in the gym. “I keep working, I keep training,” he said. “I’ve been taking care of my body since I was 18, not just now. There’s no secret to improving your game.

It’s just constant practice. You practice to get better. I enjoy training, it’s fun. The fun comes in when you’re tired and you push yourself to try to be the best player you can be. You challenge your will. At the same time, you listen to your body and take care of it.”

Bryant said persistence is a virtue that leads to accomplishing goals. “First of all, you’ve got to love and have the passion for playing,” he said. “When you’re faced with setbacks, you’ve got to be persistent and work harder to accomplish your goals.”

Growing up in Italy where his father Joe played as an import, Bryant didn’t only learn how to speak Italian and Spanish but also how to play football. “It’s a beautiful sport,” he said. “It helped me develop as a kid. It certainly helped my footwork and gave me more mobility and strength in doing different pivots and switching my feet on the court.”

Regarding the possibility of a Filipino someday making it to the NBA, Bryant said it’s just a matter of time. “If you’ve got a good player, no matter where he’s playing, the NBA will find him,” said Bryant. “That’s how global the NBA is now. Every time I come back to Manila, everybody’s improving.

Coaches play an important role in teaching players. They shouldn’t be screamers or yellers. They should be patient and know how to talk the game. The key is to be able to teach.”

Bryant said after the Lakers were swept by Dallas in the recent Western Conference semifinal playoffs, the priority is to work harder in the offseason and get ready for the next campaign. “We’re moving on,” he said. “We’ve had a great run, playing in seven finals in the last 12 seasons. But it’s back to working harder than ever.”

As for a Bryant statue outside the Staples Center, he said, “One day, that would be nice – if that’s something they feel like they want to do for me, I’d welcome it.” And Bryant added he’ll end his NBA career with the Lakers.

Playing for the US at the Olympics was an unforgettable experience for Bryant and he said he plans to do it again in London next year. “I loved it in Beijing,” he said. “I had a great time. One of my favorite things to do was to sit in the cafeteria and meet all those tremendous athletes, the best in the world, talking to them, trying to learn how they train, where they come from and what their stories are.”

Bryant said the transition of playing against NBA rivals and joining them on the US team was easy. “It wasn’t much of a transition for me because I’ve won more than they have,” he chuckled. “As far as the trash-talking goes, the buck stops here and there’s nothing you can say.”

Bryant said he often works out with former NBA star Chuck (The Rifleman) Person but his stroke remains the same. “Chuck’s a workaholic like me,” he said. “When I come to work out four hours before practice, he’s there. So we do things together. He can still shoot it. He’s the Rifleman. My stroke hasn’t changed at all. Chuck’s a great scorer. He and I kind of just talk and we go back and forth. We just work out together.”

Bryant said what’s special about Filipinos is the energy they exude in welcoming him. “There’s so much energy, I can feel it,” he said. “That’s why I like doing camps (in Manila). I feel the energy of the people and it helps me.”

Bryant said the globalization of basketball is a positive development for the NBA. The game has evolved into a tactical contest where players play out of the box with big men in the perimeter, guards posting up and coaches using different kinds of defense. It’s a game that has captured the imagination of the world.

(source: Phil Star)


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